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    Dear Natural History Museum, What Is That Infernal Squawk Out My Window?

    The subject line of the email was simply, “Bird?” It’s not unusual for researchers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to receive requests like this. Local residents aren’t shy about asking for help to identify critters they encounter on hikes or even in their backyards. But what was unusual about this email, sent […]

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    Inside the Goth Chicken: Black Bones, Black Meat & a Black Heart

    In the historical novel The Black Tulip, written by Alexandre Dumas, an honest and decent Dutch tulip fancier is nearly brought to ruin by his quest to breed a purely black flower. More precisely, his misadventure is due to the dastardly schemes of his neighbor, who, frantic with spite and jealousy over the plants, frames […]

  • 5. Albino. Magpie hero

    Red-Eyed Magpies, White-Speckled Ravens & Other Birds of Unusual Feathers

    “This here is my favorite cabinet,” Hein van Grouw tells me as we walk around the back rooms of the Natural History Museum at Tring, 30 miles northwest of London as the crow flies. He pulls the steel double-doors open, revealing a menagerie of stuffed birds. On the top shelves there are snipes, rails, and […]

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    Seeing Electricity, Hearing Magnetism & Other Sensory Feats

    For elephants, feet are sensory organs.Martin Harvey, Getty Images It’s pretty obvious that dogs have sharper ears and cats a keener sense of smell than we do. But as powerful these senses are, they are merely keener versions of the ones we humans possess. The animal kingdom also boast some senses that are arguably more […]

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    Where Endangered Vultures Go for a Healthy, Rotting Meal

    A young, captive Cape vultureChelsea Biondolillo   The sun is hot and high over Hartbeetspoort, South Africa, the air thick with humidity and flies. On the dirt in front of us are the remains of three cows. Bridgette Cahill asks, “Ready to get your hands dirty?” Her fellow volunteer Nobuhle Thelma Mabhikwa nods. They work […]

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    Human vs. Squirrel: The Battle of Wits Is On

    “Hey, thanks for the new feeder. Now I can pretend I’m super-squirrel while I eat!”IanC66 via Shutterstock Feed the birds, they said. It will be fun, they said. Early this spring I bought a simple wood-and-plastic bird feeder. My children and I filled it with feed that promised to lure colorful birds, hung it from […]

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    Evolution’s Contrarian Capacity for Creativity

    The easily confused willow tit and black-capped chickadeef.c.franklin via Flickr / Brandon Keim One of my favorite pastimes while traveling is watching birds. Not rare birds, mind you, but common ones: local variations on universal themes of sparrow and chickadee, crow and mockingbird. I enjoy them in the way that other people appreciate new food […]